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Introduction; Part I. Setting the Stage: Europe and Asia before Divergence: 2. India and the global economy, ; 3. Political institutions and economic life; Part II. The Divergence of Britain: 4. The European response to Indian cottons; 5. State and market: Britain, France, and the Ottoman Empire; 6. From cotton to coal; Part III. The Indian Path: 7. Science and technology in India, ; 8.

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Industry in early nineteenth-century India; 9. Review Text 'We have been waiting for more than ten years since Pomeranz opened the debate on the Great Divergence between China and the West for the book that brings India into the discourse.

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Manage episode series By Marshall Poe. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Answers abound. So is there anything new to say about it? According to Prasannan Parthasarathi , there certainly is. English textile merchants were getting trounced by imported Indian cotton. So, they had to create a new, more efficient, production process.

They did. That makes a lot of sense. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone. Welcome to Player FM! Take it with you.

This was the case from at least three points of view. Second, such a process was limited not just by environmental constraints but also by the capacity of the receiving areas to learn and put into practice techniques and technologies that transformed cotton from a botanical rarity into a raw material for a flourishing industry. The spread of spinning and weaving technologies across most of Asia and Africa—and to a certain extent also Europe—meant the development of a new economic sector and changes to both the agrarian and manufacturing economies of Eurasia.

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Finally, products also diffused across space. Indian cottons were appreciated for their visual and tactile properties and ensured for India a central role in global trade. As previously said, this is a story that has been normally narrated in terms of the industrialisation of Europe. However, I argue that technological development was just one among the many factors explaining this transition. As such they should be viewed with caution due to the lack of reliable data.

However, they provide an explanation for a couple of important topics that have dominated the global economic history agenda over the past two decades. Essentially it deals with the narrowing of the gap, its eventual closure and inversion. This is explained by the rise of China and India once again, cheap manufacturing, and in particular textile and clothing and other consumer goods seems to be central to this narrative.

There is a certain amount of disagreement over the chronology and intensity of these processes, in particular whether Europe was already more developed than China or India in c. There is also a big debate on what is going to happen next: whether the US will remain an economic and political hegemonic; and whether China will be able to reshape the global system, in particular the system of production, something that has not yet happened.

Not just that, but we are also globally ten times more numerous in Europe possibly five-six times more numerous than three centuries ago. The wealth of the world has multiplied exponentially over the past three centuries, something that had not happened since the invention of agriculture. However this increase of wealth has not been equally distributed.

Why Europe Grew Rich and Asia Did Not : Global Economic Divergence, 1600-1850

Figure 3. In this sense, divergence is the correct expression to identify the fact that part of the world has moved to a higher plateau of prosperity. This we can confidently say has been until recently the Western World with its antipodean offshoots of Australian and the West in the East: Japan. Exceptionalism tends to emphasise that Europe had something special that no-one else had a special culture or religion—Weber; a special technological creativity—Landes; a special political ability to conquer—Jones, etc.


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Contingencies are lucky coincidences. Starting from having little familiarity of the cotton fibre and the use of cotton textiles, the European chartered companies provided useful knowledge in order to engage with a complex variety of cotton fabrics that they purchased in India: Europeans had to learn how to successfully trade and market such fabrics. But learning involved consumers as well as traders. Unlike much of the literature, I argue that consumers in Europe and elsewhere for that matter did not seize the opportunity to purchase novel fabrics such as cotton textiles.

Cultural historians have alerted economic historians to the importance of consumption. Indeed the history of consumption has been over the past couple of decades an arena of wide-ranging research that has led some historians to claim the existence of a consumer revolution to counterbalance the more production-led industrial revolution. Economic historians have done their best—and failed—to consider consumption as an endogenous variable. It took the best part of a century for cotton to become fully integrated into the consuming patterns of Europeans—a process that had to be aided by the East India companies through trialand-error and that was opposed by strong textile lobbies, especially those protecting the interests of wool and silk textile producers.

The consumption of calicoes and chintzes became important not just in Europe. Atlantic markets provided an entirely new space for these Asian fabrics and their European imitations in which to thrive. Cotton textiles changed the dress of African consumers and slaves in the Americas. They allowed the development of new production centres in places such as Manchester in England and Rouen in France whose production of cheap copies of Indian cloths was nearly totally sold to African and American consumers.

Unable to cultivate it at home, Europeans drew from the experience of sugar and set up a new form of agrarian unit outside the borders of the European continent: the slave plantation. In this case the relationship between cotton and other commodities sugar but also coffee, cocoa, indigo etc. Once again, the plantation economy was not the ultimate goal of European endeavour but emerged over time as a viable solution to the scarcity of raw cotton that had plagued European textile manufacturing since the middle ages.

It was over a period of a couple of centuries that Europeans merchants and entrepreneurs came to master a system that replaced different parts of a global commodity chain. Merchants started by importing finished cloth and then trained consumers to appreciate it; then manufacturers started printing on imported white cloth as this allowed designs and colours better suited to local European customers and in doing so learned the finishing stages. Then they started thinking about producing their own cloth, first by getting hold of raw materials and eventually also by finding a way to spin and weave such cloth.

It has nothing of the triumphal narrative of European ascendancy. In fact Europeans were late-comers and failed miserably several times. Private collection.


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My response here whilst acknowledging the role of technology, pays attention to other factors as well.